- Opalescent Ribbon
- If There's Love in Your Heart
- Nowhere Real
- Glitch Eternity
- Step's Disappearing Coin
- Cruiser (Reprise)
- Cool and Collected
- Who Cares
- Poured Back in the Stream
- Addicted to a Dream
- Nowhere Real (Reprise)
- It Is What I Want, But Not What I Need
In 2019, Stephen Steinbrink discovered a short YouTube video of a street magician who approaches a highschooler walking home in Barstow, California. “Here, let me show you my idea,” he says, as he places a quarter on the kid’s hand. The magician performs some relaxed flourishes, and the coin vanishes. In silence, the kid stares at his hand at the nothing where there once, indisputably, was something, until his wonder finds a single word: “Cool.”
The title of Disappearing Coin, the new album from Oakland songwriter Stephen Steinbrink, comes from this short clip. “When I look at it now,” he says, “I relate to the kid, who’s obviously uneasy in his body, and going through the experience of being a teenager in the early 2000s growing up in a bleak desert town like I did. I also relate to the coin, an inanimate disc of possibility. And I relate to the magician, an absurd facilitator of sending what is tactile and concrete into the wispy conceptual realm.”
“I’ve watched it probably a hundred times,” he says. “It cracked me up but also blew my mind open— the feeling of wonder I experienced watching this video became a guide as I navigated new ways of staying in the realm of what’s both real and magical.”
After a decade of incessant recording and touring, Steinbrink’s creative world felt strange and alien, and he felt compelled to reorient himself in relationship to songwriting by exploring artistic and spiritual worlds outside of music. Following the 2018 release of the acclaimed Utopia Teased, Steinbrink completed an apprenticeship in the nearly-lost art of Stained Glass, becoming a glazier at a studio that over three years, fully restored the enormous 90-year-old windows in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. He committed to his Buddhist study, beginning lay monastic training before the process was thwarted by the pandemic. He dove deeper into music production for other artists, engineering two albums by Boy Scouts released on Anti- Records in 2018 and 2021. Steinbrink delighted in the way these pursuits pulled at the thread of ego’s tapestry and decentralized him from his craft, allowing him to embody a new role as a creative caretaker engaging in practices that felt communal and restorative.
“As I slowly began writing for myself again, I tried to imbue my new songs with this sense of playfulness and wonder I felt while exploring these other interests.” he says. Feeling unlocked from the pressures of perfection that he often felt in his earlier work, creating Disappearing Coin felt buoyant and healing. “The album feels like an integration of all of my past musical selves zeroing in on the present,” Steinbrink explains, “I felt free to explore new ways of writing, through different perspectives, experimenting with fictional songwriting, visual archetypal language, and total collaboration.” This “total collaboration” was a joyous new venture after years of solo performing and recording. Among the enlisted are Taylor Vick, Paul Frunzi of Ever Ending Kicks, Nick Levine of Jodi, and longtime co-arranger Andrew Dorsett.
Steinbrink’s new invigoration is clear on album opener “Opalescent Ribbon,” a propulsive track written together with Paul Frunzi. “We would drink coffee at midnight and write together, exploring repetition and minimalism,” he says. The two trade impressionistic, dreamlike inventories, with Steinbrink’s “poison mushrooms” and “synthetic weather” posed alongside Frunzi’s consideration of “water’s latency,” woven melodies and harmonies punctuated by a repetitive stream of Steve Reich-ian vibraphone and distorted synth drones.
Culled from sessions at a variety of professional studios (The Unknown in Anacortes, Tiny Telephone in Oakland) as well as improvised recording spaces (the album was finished in the closet of an old pencil factory in Oakland), Disappearing Coinconfidently navigates conflicting poles: hard objects and soft reconciliation, analog and digital, the self and others, absurdity and fear. “Poured Back in the Stream” tries to organize the mental aftermath of a near-death experience, “Survivor’s guilt? I laugh at thee / Showing up to work the next day after the shooting.” while “Pony” wryly examines the emerging impulse to fight his Zen Master during a torturously long period of sitting meditation. The ever evolving phase shifting from high-fi to lo-fi brings the listener to the acoustic intimacy of “If There’s Love in Your Heart,” where beguiling chords, drum machines and dissonant FM synth clusters pierce through the tape hiss while Steinbrink sings of duty and devotion with synesthetic precision. “I want to build a house for a human caterpillar / On a barren knoll on a spiral jetty / I’ll skin my knees to prove that I can finish / Feel the lapping of time on my high-heeled shoes / Like a Mandelbrot Set in a Honda Accord / It’s not sacrifice if there’s love in your heart.”
The album can be seen as a 42 minute session of show and tell, the manifestation of Steinbrink repeating the mantra of “Here, let me show you my idea” to himself over and over. Disappearing Coin is at once a welcome return for the veteran Steinbrink and the debut of a totally new artist, one who has found a new path to himself with new goals of openness, curiosity, and self-acceptance.